President Donald Trump “certainly believes he has the power” to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, the White House said Tuesday, in an indication that administration officials have discussed the notion.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made the comment at a press briefing Tuesday — the first since Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, saw his office and residence raided by the FBI.
The New York Times reported Monday that Mueller, who is investigating links between the Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, provided a referral for the agents who conducted the search.
Trump, in heated remarks on Monday evening, said “many people have said, ‘You should fire him,'” when asked if he planned to fire Mueller.
Asked at the White House press briefing on Tuesday about whether Trump had the power to fire Mueller, Sanders reiterated, “We’ve been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision.”
But this guidance may conflict with the Code of Federal Regulations, which says “the Special Counsel may be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General.”
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., referred to the federal rule in his response to Sanders’ comments at the briefing.
The Justice Department regulations “could not be more clear; the president does not have the authority to remove Special Counsel Mueller,” a spokesman for Schumer said.
Sanders’ comments indicated that White House staff, and possibly the president, have sought advice on whether Trump could order the special counsel terminated.
Sanders didn’t immediately respond to an email asking whether there have been discussions in the White House about firing Mueller and whether Trump has actively sought advice about it.
Reporters also asked Sanders about the president’s recent remarks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has long been a target of Trump’s ire over his recusal . The power Sessions abdicated fell to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whom Trump has reportedly also considered firing.
At the Monday evening briefing, Trump offered some of his harshest criticism yet for the head of his own Justice Department. “The attorney general made a terrible mistake when he did this,” Trump said of Sessions’ recusal. Had Sessions let Trump know he was planning to recuse himself over failing to report contacts with a Russian ambassador in congressional testimony, “we would have used a — put a different attorney general in,” Trump said.
Sanders affirmed that Trump’s words represented his feelings about Sessions, saying “the president was pretty clear about his frustrations when he spoke about that last night.”
Asked if John Bolton, who began his tenure as Trump’s new national security advisor on Monday, forced homeland security advisor Tom Bossert to resign, Sanders said she is “not going to get into specific details about ongoing personnel.” She added, however, that Trump feels Bossert has “done a great job.”